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Mikko Tolonen, “Mandeville, Hayek and Politics of Self-esteem” (October 2020)

Welcome to our October 2020 edition of Liberty Matters. In this essay and discussion forum Mikko Tolonen, Associate Professor of Digital Humanities at the University of Helsinki, discusses the work of Bernard Mandeville, one of the most original thinkers and personalities of the 18th century. Tolonen discusses various aspects of Mandeville’s thought, in particular the insight concerning people’s faith in their own opinions and their inability to be impartial in moral and political matters. Tolonen then compares Mandeville’s critique of human knowledge with F.A. Hayek’s well known discussion of the limits of human reason. According to Tolonen, Hayek’s work on the use of knowledge deftly compares Rousseau’s view of rationality with Mandeville’s Scottish Enlightenment thinking. His provocative essay, and the three excellent response essays from our other contributors, raise interesting questions about the way in which ideas transcend various eras, particularly those that describe human nature and the norms that dictate human behavior in markets.



Mikko Tolonen, "Mandeville, Hayek and Politics of Self-esteem" [October 5, 2020]


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The Discussion

Lead Essay: Mikko Tolonen, “Mandeville, Hayek and Politics of Self-esteem” [Posted: October 5, 2020]

Responses and Critiques

  1. Jimena Hurtado, "Mandeville, Grapes, Wine and Government" [Posted: October 12, 2020]
  2. Andrea Branchi, "Honour and the Art of Politics" [Posted: October 14, 2020]

About the Authors

Mikko Tolonen is an associate professor in digital humanities at the Faculty of Arts at the University of Helsinki. His background is in intellectual history and he is the PI of Helsinki Computational History Group (COMHIS) at Helsinki Centre for Digital Humanities (HELDIG). His main research focus is on an integrated study of public discourse and knowledge production that combines metadata from library catalogues as well as full-text libraries of books, newspapers and periodicals in early modern Europe. Tolonen works also in other areas of Enlightenment studies, such as the intellectual development of Bernard Mandeville and David Hume.

Dario Castiglione is an associate professor of political theory and its history at the University of Exeter, with particular application to contemporary European developments. His main areas of research comprise democratic theory, the interconnection between state and society, the history of early modern political thought, and democracy and constitutionalism in the EU. He is currently one of the Editors of the ECPR Press. He has been a research fellow at Australia National University, Canberra; Zentrum fur Europaische Rechtspolitik, University of Bremen; Robert Schuman Centre and European University Institute, Florence (Forum on "European Constitutionalism"); and the New School University, New York.

Andrea Branchi is a professor at the American University in Rome. He focuses on various topics within philosophy, politics and history of ideas, in particular: Bernard Mandeville’s works (he has recently organized and coordinated an international symposium on Mandeville in Rome); 18th c. British moral philosophy; the history of the idea of self-love and self-interest; history of women; medicine, philosophy and literature in the Age of the Enlightenment; history of Atheism, military history and Italian history, culture and identity. Prof. Branchi has published two books (Storia della Scienza e della Tecnologia: Il secolo dei Lumi (Vol. 22 Iperlibri della Scienza), Firenze, DoGi, 1999; Introduzione a Mandeville, Laterza, 2004) and several scholarly articles and essays on moral and political philosophy, military history and history of ideas.

Professor Jimena Hurtado is professor of economics at the Universidad de Los Andes in Bogota, Colombia. She specializes in the field of economic thought, in particular the works of Smith, Mandeville and Rousseau. She is the co-editor of the Journal of the History of Economic Thought and has written numerous articles on major 18th century economic thinkers in English, French and Spanish. She has held visiting fellowships at various universities in Europe and Latin America as well as Stanford Univerity in the United States.

LEAD ESSAY: Mikko Tolonen, “Mandeville, Hayek and Politics of Self-esteem”

Bernard Mandeville and Friedrich Hayek shared a view on the role of self-deception in human affairs. People are naturally partial. But that is not the issue. The root of the problem is that people deceive themselves in believing that they are right in their convictions while being incapable of taking an impartial perspective in moral and political matters. For Hayek, our propensity to self-deception meant that we cannot trust the perspective of any individual – no matter how enlightened they may seem – to guide us towards a planned, centralised future. Thus, it is best to let individuals and corporations make their own plans, which at the same time limits the authority that anyone can exercise over others. In his famous attack on constructivist rationalism, Hayek, in the Mandevillean vein, takes as an enemy what he calls the wrong kind of individualism based on faith in human reason.[1] Hayek does a great (and still somewhat unappreciated) job in intellectual history of juxtaposing Rousseauvian rational individualism to Mandevillean Scottish Enlightenment thinking.[2] For Hayek, acknowledging the role of self-deception and our inability to take an unbiased perspective was a premise for living in a post-WWII liberal Western world. This shared view on human nature suggests there are good reasons for us to compare Mandeville and Hayek on their extended views on civil society.[3]

What I want to underline in this essay is that in neither the Mandevillean or Hayekian understanding of civil society is protecting property rights and limiting governmental interference enough to explain how civil society is able to function.[4] We need societal peace, and in order to achieve that we also need to be able to protect people's self-esteem and feelings of self-worth, which is a complicated matter. Mandeville lived in the eighteenth century, unfamiliar with the concept of modern state or progressive taxation. His idea of management of protection of self-esteem was based on two components: the principle of politeness and clear class distinctions that also functioned as a psychological barrier. The relevance of class distinction was that the working poor (the largest part of the population) would not begin to compare themselves to the people higher up on the social ladder. This way the poor would remain happy and satisfied in their condition.[5] These measures seem outdated or even discriminating in the twenty-first century Western world, but the need to guard people's self-esteem is still fundamental and should not be taken for granted.

Friedrich Hayek defines spontaneous order as "well-structured social patterns, which appear to be a product of some omniscient designing mind yet which are in reality the spontaneous co-ordinated outcomes of the actions of, possibly, millions of individuals who had no intention of effecting such overall aggregate orders."[6] This is a Mandevillean formulation.[7] But which social patterns are we talking about? For Mandeville, the relevant social patterns are not just any conventions. All social patterns evolve in the same manner, but what matters are the political conventions where the government plays a role coining the convention and turning it into a rule.[8] Conceptually, this is important because it guides us towards the question of what is the role of the public and in what manner it can be defined. Unlike Mandeville, Hayek does not specify what social patterns he is interested in, but treats them more like fashions. The most useful social patterns will survive, and the less viable ones will disappear in the same way that some groups of people and countries will do worse in the competition against others. There are thus no determined political conventions to be discovered for Hayek based on human nature. He is interested in the principle of spontaneous order and not in its resolved political outcomes.

For both Mandeville and Hayek, general rules are negative and there is a crucial division between small and large societies.[9] In other words, it is important to understand that the flourishing of a large society is based on a different logic than a small one, which can be built on frugality and self-denial. At the same time, in large societies, the question of societal peace becomes central for the free market to operate and produce prosperity. It is this societal peace that general rules ultimately protect.

With respect to large societies, Mandeville places much relevance on the determined connection between a particular passion and the general rule that guides or redirects it. A general rule of private property is necessary so that everyone has the chance to accumulate wealth and people can trust that neither individuals nor the government can take away what one has acquired legally. Once people learn that in the long run it is easier to accumulate wealth by following this principle, it becomes their interest to promote education that supports the rule. There is no natural motive for people to refrain from taking other people's possessions, but in this way a virtuous pattern emerges. It is important for the logic of the argument that the working poor become wealthier in absolute terms. This also creates moral feelings towards the social convention. This long-term interest might be at times forgotten by chance, circumstances, or relative differences between people. Hence, there need to be punishments in place as well, enforced by the government against violations on private property. It needs to be understood that civil societies built on such artificial virtues might collapse, too, if the political structure is unable to protect its fundamental values.

What is important in the Mandevillean scheme is that there is a further dimension to this geometrical interplay of passions and general rules. Namely, we need to be able to deal with people's pride and protect their self-esteem at the same time in order for them to be productive contributors to the market. Mandeville does not consider the accumulation of wealth as the pinnacle of human nature. People need to survive, but more important is their social existence based on self-esteem. Following the same logic of private property, also with respect to self-esteem, the absolute feelings of self-worth should be higher than in earlier times through social evolution. Or, to put it in other words, with time citizens should become happier. The feeling of self-worth is developed in interaction with others, and it is one kind of trafficking and commerce. In the case of self-love, if there is a fear of arbitrary loss of one's possessions, this cripples the market. At the same time, people tend to overvalue themselves. If they are constantly facing a situation where their self-image is put down either by differentiating societal values or by nasty individuals, this makes them unproductive also. In the Mandevillean scheme, self-esteem can be interpreted as a political question.

A large part of the Mandevillean psychology is devoted to the role of pride and the feeling of self-worth. While Mandeville and Hayek share a crucial point of departure with respect to an ideological stance on the role of human fallibility, yet the understanding of the relevance of individual freedom and autonomy diverges Hayek from the Mandevillean path. In the Mandevillean view of self-esteem, reciprocity is crucial and reference groups tie individuals to larger society. Hayek's understanding of the fundamentals of what is needed for civil society to function is different, even when he emphasises Mandeville's role in developing the ideas of spontaneous order, division of labour, and critical rationalism of the passions as the main lines of the Scottish Enlightenment.[10]

Hayek builds his view of the self on autonomy, which shows a somewhat paradoxical optimism towards human nature and is unlike anything we witness in Mandeville. According to Hayek, "nothing makes conditions more unbearable than the knowledge that no effort of ours can change them."[11]

In contrast Mandeville thinks that all human connections are entangled and there is no sight of the autonomy that Hayek is after. The possibility of autonomy is traded for the cultivation of self-esteem that is possible only by being dependent on the society around us. Hayek's concept of "opportunities of choice" also relates to autonomy. In this way, it becomes understandable why in Hayek's view competition has such a decisive and penetrating role in civil society. Rene Prendegast has perceptively evaluated the overwhelming role of the concept of capital and how different aspects of Mandevillean thinking fade away as the price system as regulating principle takes over in Hayek.[12]

While there are elements in Hayek's prose that come close to grasping the central parts of Mandeville's ideas on customs and laws with respect to politeness and self-esteem,[13] it is the focus on autonomy that keeps his attention at the level of spontaneous order without engaging with particular passions, or analysing their relevance with the intent of finding general political conclusions. For example, in Road to Serfdom the idea of property and ownership clearly trump self-esteem, which is built on reciprocity within the community. The psychological question of upholding the self-image of the poor or minority groups for the sake of societal peace, for example, does not play a central role in Hayek's prose.

The demand for autonomy and individualism is indeed high in Hayek. Inspired by a comparison to feudalism, Hayek also wants to free the modern individual from the ties that bind him. This would be an illusion for Mandeville. At the same time, the tug of war between individualism and collectivism is complex in the Mandevillean setting. The Mandevillean social theorist does not work in planning the future but discovering the social anatomy that reveals the structures of civil society. An anatomist of civil society serves an important role revealing what has to be done with respect to general rules and their protection. This is also David Hume's idea in his essay "That Politics May be Reduced to a Science_"_ when he discusses "eternal political truths" that are discovered over time.[14] In a contrasting manner, Hayek wanted to explain the principle of spontaneous order and engage with policy without focusing on particular passions and fixed political principles derived from them. A Mandevillean idea is that there is enough data to conclude that all large societies that are able to function have developed particular general rules with respect to self-love and self-liking/self-esteem. This is a point where there is a crucial difference between Mandeville and Hayek.

In his Charity-school essay, Mandeville writes that "it is the Business of the Publick to supply the Defects of the Society, and take that in hand first which is most neglected by private Persons."[15]

With a limited role of choice and autonomy for the individuals, it logically becomes the government's role to relieve different tensions in civil society. Governmental responsibility also concerns the unskilled poor and their management in order for the civil society to function.

The Mandevillean social structure is built on the idea that working for someone else, or being under someone else's rule and especially at the mercy of people's opinion is nearly unavoidable. He takes this as a social fact when examining the eighteenth-century reality and underlines that it is not a particularly cruel way of perceiving the world. This is also demonstrated in Mandeville's comments on the working poor and slavery. According to Mandeville, slavery is against the basic principles of Christian countries. His example of apparent hypocrisy is the eighteenth-century Dutch who keep their criminals in seemingly similar conditions to slaves. The point is that the working poor are also in a situation where their autonomy and self-ownership can be seen to be severely curbed. Yet, Mandeville claims, the poor can still remain happy in a way upper classes are not. Hayek underlines that the unskilled labourers have a de facto choice to submit to others in the free world. The role of choice is irrelevant in Mandeville's opinion for his psychological argument. In normal situations, the poor are simply happier without the need to climb the social ladder or dream about it. In this way of thinking about social classes, everyone cannot and shouldn't aspire to be middle class. Social mobility is not a fundamental value. But, importantly for the logic of the argument, free ranging competition in all areas of life is not the solution to deal with the poor either.

While Mandeville and Hayek agree that arbitrary governmental intervention is to be avoided, this does not mean that government would not have a role in the protection of general rules. It is important to consider the nature of these general rules and what governmental interventions ought to be about. One way of interpreting the Hayekian vision of civil society is that it is fundamentally focused on the side of private property. In this setting, the price system applied to different areas of human life is seen as the best method for bringing social order, and the government should focus on making sure that it functions freely. This scheme places great hope on the idea that competition will take care of most of the business. But if the logic of general rules is not based on private property alone, then such questions as the feeling of self-worth can be seen in a different political light also for the sake of mutual peace.

In the Mandevillean perspective, because of the relevance of self-worth, governmental responsibility towards the poor is more extensive when considered in the modern setting in which having a large stock of people accustomed to hard labour is no longer necessary as it was in the eighteenth century. The underprivileged need help in many areas of life to get along. Hayek also thinks that we need an extensive system of social services and he offers many practical solutions to questions of welfare.[16]

The Mandevillean way of looking at this is that social services have two different purposes. First, they promote the basic survival of individuals and link to self-love. But an extensive network of social services (for example, affordable housing and health care) that are within the reach of everyone can be seen to uphold the baseline of people's self-esteem as well.

Hayek's way of looking at progressive taxation is that it violates the principle of autonomy. In the best of possible worlds scenario, he would rather have people helping the poor and doing community service voluntarily rather than through progressive taxation. In contrast, from the Mandevillean perspective, charity is the worst form of humiliation. Accepting alms turns people beggarly by downgrading their self-esteem and pushing them further from the market and circumstances where competition is possible. Naturally, Mandeville did not live in a modern world familiar with progressive taxation or basic income. But one conclusion that can be drawn from the Mandevillean principles is that it might be better to organise necessary social services in a centralised, cost-regulated manner once we have been able to define basic needs. Even in the Hayekian vision, a system of basic welfare can be set up in a way that helps people's self-image.

Hayek of course is not a full-blown laissez-faire thinker either. Societal peace requires other things besides property rights and regulation of the market. One of the key issues is who you are comparing yourself to when developing your image of self and self-esteem. The idea of wholehearted equality of choice and competition in all areas of life without recognition of class or cultural differences doesn't fit into this setting, and it is grasped clearly in parts of Hayek's oeuvre. Mandeville pays crucial attention to social distance, and Hayek leans towards the idea that people's passions are different based on their circumstances. If we follow the logic of this Mandevillean argument, we come to accept that pride or self-esteem is a fundamental passion that needs to be regulated in large society. This means that a moral convention such as politeness – that is blind to the actual worth of the people cultivating the positive feeling they have of themselves – follows in the spirit of spontaneous order. At the same time, it is possible to recognise that there are further requirements for the basic structure of political order beyond the focus on private property and free markets. In Mandeville's vision, any large society that is able to function would have established, and preserved general rules with respect to both self-love and self-esteem. Guarding self-love through property rights in a Mandevillean manner has been well established in the Western liberal tradition. The question of protecting and upholding self-esteem is still unclear, even at the level of a political principle. They are like Yin and Yang, except the political relevance of Yang has been largely neglected.

Hayek thinks that there are "certain fields where the system of competition is impracticable." Protecting the baseline of self-esteem for all citizens, in spite of their background could be seen to be one of these fields in the Mandevillean evolutionary setting (environmental issues, such as deforestation and factory smoke, are examples that Hayek mentions of fields where the system of competition does not work). The main point of this essay has been that Mandeville and Hayek's different emphasis on autonomy is the decisive factor that leads them logically towards different conclusions. The Mandevillean task was to define the nature of civil society by studying the evolution of social patterns based on human nature and what spontaneous order produces. If we follow this logic, we end up with a fundamental political need to also protect people's self-esteem. In the Hayekian vision this was overshadowed by the emphasis placed on the side of competition over objects of self-love. It is not farfetched to think that this requirement for societal peace could be incorporated into the Hayekian vision as well. In his Constitution of Liberty, Hayek understands that the most "effective method of providing against certain risks common to all citizens of a state is to give every citizen protection against those risks." We may disagree about the particulars on how to guard people's self-esteem, but we should keep this fundamental political principle in mind when thinking about spontaneous order and the role of the public based on human nature.


[1.] Hayek, Law, Legislation and Liberty. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, vol. I, Rules and Order, 1973; vol. II, The Mirage of Social Justice, 1976; vol. III, The Political Order of a Free People, 1979.

[2.] See especially, Hayek (1945). "Individualism: true and false" in Individualism and Economic Order. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1948.

[3.] Hayek was deeply influenced throughout his career by Mandeville. This culminated in a streamlined lecture on Mandeville in 1966, but different aspects of Mandevillean influence are apparent already in the 1940s, especially in his "Individualism: true and false" and Road to serfdom (but also, for example, in "Facts of the social sciences" and "Use of Knowledge in Society"). In the 1950s, Hayek also supervised a doctoral dissertation on Mandeville (Nishiyama, Chiaki (1960). "The Theory of Self-Love. An Essay on the Methodology of the Social Sciences, and Especially of Economics, with Special Reference to Bernard Mandeville." University of Chicago Ph.D. Dissertation). This coincided with Hayek's first publication solely on Mandeville that was in German in 1959 ("Bernard Mandeville." Handwörterbuch der Sozialwissenschaften 7 (Stuttgart-Tübingen-Göttingen)).

[4.] In this essay, I take the liberty in my use of the concept "Mandevillean" to extend it beyond the eighteenth-century setting to follow what I take as the logic of the argument.

[5.] Pongiglione, F., & Tolonen, M. (2016). "Mandeville on charity schools: happiness, social order and the psychology of poverty." Erasmus Journal for Philosophy and Economics, 9(1), 82-100.

[6.] Hayek (1944). The Road to Serfdom. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

[7.] Mandeville as a forerunner of Hayek's idea of spontaneous order has been analysed on several occasions. For useful historical constructions, see Nolan, Mark (2013). "Hayek's 1945 Finlay Memorial Lecture: Tracing the origins and evolution of his 'true' individualism." Rev Austrian Econ 26, 53–71. and Nolan (2016). "Paul Sakmann's and Albert Schatz's Mandeville studies: their link to Hayek's 'spontaneous order' theory."Journal of the History of Economic Thought, 38(4), 485-506. doi:10.1017/S1053837216000729

[8.] Tolonen (2013). Mandeville and Hume: anatomists of civil society. (SVEC; Vol. 2013, No. 7). Oxford: University of Oxford, Voltaire Foundation.

[9.] See also Hayek (1968). "A Self-Generating Order for Society." In John Nef (ed.), Towards World Community. The Hague.

[10.] Hayek is not interested in Mandeville's outdated economic ideas.

[11.] Hayek (1944). The Road to Serfdom.

[12.] Prendergast, Renee (2010). "Accumulation of knowledge and accumulation of capital in early 'theories' of growth and development."Cambridge Journal of Economics. 34: 420. 10.1093/cje/bep009. See also Prendergast (2014). "Knowledge, Innovation and Emulation in the Thought of Bernard Mandeville." Cambridge Journal of Economics 38: 87–107.

[13.] Cf. chapter 10 in Hayek (1960), The Constitution of Liberty. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

[14.] David Hume, Essays, moral, political, and literary, LibertyClassics, p. 21.

[15.] Mandeville, Fable of the bees, I, p. 321.

[16.] Cf. Hayek, Constitution of liberty, Part III, Freedom in the Welfare State.


1. Jimena Hurtado, "Mandeville, Grapes, Wine and Government" [Posted: October 12, 2020]

Bernard Mandeville, also known as "Man-devil" in his times, was infamous for allegedly promoting private vices, opposing the activities of the Societies for the Reformation of Manners, and attacking any form of asceticism as mere hypocrisy. Even though his books were burnt and he was treated as a public enemy, he was influential in the querelle du luxe, and many thinkers referred to his work as a focal point. Mandeville did not engage in personal controversies but he did, by name, oppose Anthony Ashley-Cooper, Lord Shaftesbury's view of society and his idea of an innate moral sense that explained human sociability. Mandeville denounced the moral sense as the building block of natural sociability as an elitist view of morality only fit for the likes of Lord Shatesbury. He argued that it denied the possibility of virtuous behavior to all those who had the misfortune of being born in a lower rank of society. This type of denunciation can be seen as Mandeville's trademark. This one is especially meaningful because of Shaftesbury's influence on the Scottish Enlightenment, and thereby on our own understanding of the social order.

Most of Mandeville's work revolves around sociability, about the possibility of human beings living together in a well-ordered society that could be both peaceful and prosperous. The Fable of the Bees, which includes both the poem "The Grumbling Hive" as well as all of Mandeville's explanatory material, deals with the nature of society and how human beings come to be sociable or governable. The deeper question, as Mikko Tolonen's piece reminds us, is about societal peace and how human passions, which Mandeville sees as the essence of human behavior, can be governed to achieve it. If, as I believe Mandeville would have it, human beings are not naturally sociable, then something has to be done to enable them to live together and respect individual rights (i.e. life, property, promise) without which social order would simply become unsustainable. Mandeville argues it is through utilizing their passions, and not by denying or repressing them, that human beings become governable. Knowing, understanding, and managing these passions is the key to a prosperous and peaceful society.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, and maybe even today, questions about why human beings are able to live together and benefit from social arrangements is at the center of philosophical and public debate. In those days the question turned around natural or artificial sociability: are human beings naturally drawn to each other or do they need to learn how to become members of society? The question aims at understanding why and how society is a way of containing conflict and enjoying the benefits of coordination and cooperation.

Mandeville weighed in on this controversy and spent many yearsafter the publication of his infamous poem trying to explain his observations. He wrote essays, included explanatory remarks, and used dialogues to make his paradox understood. The Dialogues between Horatio and Cleomenes were one of these explanatory devices. In the Fourth Dialogue[1] Cleomenes, Mandeville's spokesperson, states "That Nature had design'd Man for Society, as she has made Grapes for Wine" (Fable ii: 185) arguing that even if human sociability is the work of nature "there is nothing that requires greater Skill" because "it is human Sagacity that finds out the Uses" of this innate virtue (Fable ii: 185) so society "cannot subsist without the Concurrence of human Wisdom" (Fable ii: 186). Human wisdom appears to be a key ingredient in making human beings sociable and governable, and therefore, capable of living together in a well-ordered society.

Human wisdom makes it possible to observe, study and understand human passions, the raw material of society, which, as Tolonen points out, needs general rules and a political structure to work. Mandeville (Fable i: 206) underscores fear as "[t]he only useful Passion [...] that Man is possessed of toward the Peace and Quiet of a Society". "Fear, and some degree of Understanding", according to Mandeville (Fable ii: 184) make human beings governable, which is not the same as being submissive. The negative character of general rules that Tolonen discusses does not imply that we follow such rules only to avoid greater evils. Rather, we follow them because we want to please, and we have a "Willingness to exert ourselves on behalf of the Person that governs" (Fable ii: 184). We accept, embrace, and become sociable because we perceive the advantages of social life. Our self-interest makes those advantages apparent. This is why fear has to be accompanied with understanding for human beings to become governable. And this would make the basis for the politics of self-esteem or, as Tolonen states, this means that self-esteem becomes a political question.

Hayek (1966) reminds us that Mandeville, beyond his succès de scandale, is a forerunner of social scientists in raising the question of how the human mind works and how social order emerges. Hayek praises Mandeville for having, even if unwittingly, stated a most powerful general principle "that in the complex order of society the results of men's actions were very different from what they had intended, and that individuals, in pursuing their own ends, whether selfish or altruistic, produced useful results for others which they did not anticipate" (Hayek 1966: 129). This complex social order, with its rules, practices, and institutions, was itself the result of individual actions and not of human design. Hayek saw in Mandeville a clear predecessor to his own social theory of spontaneous order.

However, this spontaneous order requires human wisdom. "The undoubted Basis of all Societies is Government" (Fable ii: 184). Government here should be understood as the art of turning grapes into wine or making human beings governable through their passions, through their fear, but most importantly through their desire to please. That desire plays into their self-esteem, as it is through the eyes of othersthat human beings satisfy their pride and have a clear sense of their own value. Mandeville (Fable i: 51) clearly states that "the nearer we search into human Nature, the more we shall be convinced, that the Moral Virtues are the Political Offspring which Flattery begot upon Pride". Flattery is then a political art that requires patience, observation, and tact. It is this political art that, following Tolonen, would mark the radical difference between Mandeville and Hayek as there is no possibility for autonomy in Mandeville's thought. Moreover, I advance, this same politics of self-esteem opens the door to a more active part for human wisdom.

Indeed, this wisdom is a main feature of Mandeville's insight on social order. On the last page of his essay on the Nature of Society, Mandeville addresses the "intelligent Reader" hoping that he has been able to provide such a reader with the amusement he has found himself in writing the text, and leaves him "with regret, and conclude with repeating the seeming Paradox, the Substance of which is advanced in the Title Page; that Private Vices by the dextrous Management of a skilful Politician may be turned into Publick Benefits" (Fable i: 369). Let us note that Mandeville now qualifies his paradox to explain exactly how passions, usually taken as a source of evil, can be transformed and managed to make human beings governable and society advantageous for all. The politics of self-esteem that Tolonen brings to light, by addressing pride, can make passions incentivize pro social behaviors and prevent them from leading to crime. In Mandeville's terms, this is how a body politic becomes a social order where each member "can find his own Ends in Labouring for others, and under one Head or other Form of Government each Member is rendered Subservient to the Whole, and all of them by cunning Management are made to Act as one" (Fable i: 347).


[1.] Dialogues written to continue the Defense, Vindication and explanation of his Fable intended to "illustrate and explain several Things, that were obscure and only hinted at" in the prior writings (Fable II; 8). Mandeville explains he has taken the time to write these documents because he simply cannot understand how anyone could ever think, if nor from "wilful Mistake and premeditated Malice" (Fable II; 6) that his intention was to promote vices and that his poem was responsible for increasing crimes or ill behavior. Horatio represents what Mandeville calls the Beau Monde "but rather of the better sort of them as to Morality; [...] He is a Man of strict Honour, and of Justice as well as Humanity; rather profuse than covetous, and altogether disinterested in his Principles" (Fable ii: 16). "Cleomenes had been just such another, but was much reform'd" (Fable ii: 16) who, arguably, speaks for Mandeville.


Hayek, F.A., (1966). "Dr. Bernard Mandeville". Master-Mind Lectures, The British Academy. Available at:

Mandeville, B., (1988). The Fable of the Bees or Private Vices, Publick Benefits, 2 vols. with a Commentary Critical, Historical, and Explanatory by F.B. Kaye, Indianapolis: Liberty Fund. Available at

2. Andrea Branchi, "Honour and the Art of Politics" [Posted: October 14, 2020]

A review of Mandeville's Enquiry into the Origin of Honour published in Rome in 1743 remarks that the English had written the most dangerous works because in some matters they are the most learned and profound. Among them "The late dr. Mandeville goes further. In the Fable of the Bees and on the Enquiry on Honour he foolishly endeavours to prove that Vices are necessary and useful devices to govern and make states flourish – and that the point of honour is the most ingenious invention of Politics."[1]

Many commentators have stressed the importance of such notions as pride and fear of shame in Mandeville's analysis of human nature, nevertheless they have by and large overlooked Mandeville's "perennial attraction to the subject of honour,"[2] his tenacious attentiveness to the origin, growth, and evolution of shared systems of sentiments of approval and disapproval based on the fear of shame. The issue of honour and its political uses is a key perspective in considering the question raised by Mikko Tolonen in his inspiring comparison between Mandeville's and Hayek's social theories, particularly in addressing the political question of self-esteem and its political dimension.

Already in his early writings Mandeville differentiates between two components of men's self-interested passions. Humans are "Lovers of Self-Preservation" and at the same time "great Admirers of Praise."[3] In the second part of the Fable of the Bees Mandeville distinguishes between self-love, the instinct of self-preservation, the love for one's physical being and self-liking, that sentiment of overvaluation of one's self which is constantly reliant on other people's approval in order to be confirmed. [4]For Mandeville human behaviour, in its apparent variety of motivations, can generally be traced back to the passion of self-liking, its effects and the efforts carried out to control, hide, and gratify it.[5]Pride and fear of shame play a central role in the 'origin of moral virtue' sketched by Mandeville in the 1714 edition of the Fable. Aware of the radically selfish nature of man, those 'Skilful Politicians' who took it upon themselves to civilize mankind, conceived a way to make people subdue their appetites and pursue public good rather than their own interest by manipulating man's natural instinct of pride. The imaginary reward that the lawmakers devised to repay individuals for the trouble of self-denial was praise for those who subordinate their inclinations to public welfare and blame directed at those who indulge their appetites. Human beings accept an idealized conception of themselves and act in accordance with it. That is: men reckon themselves rational creatures, and they share a criterion of moral worth based on this belief. Yet, passions are the only motives for action that Mandeville acknowledges.[6]According to Mandeville morality derives from a process in which individuals share false beliefs about their own nature and their own motivations. They perform a behaviour worthy of approval and are dominated by pride to the point of not being able to recognize their own motivations. Social relations are based not only on hypocrisy, but also on a systematic self-deception in which the individual controls his own self-interest through an additional passion that is not recognized as such.[7]The basis of civilized society is grounded exclusively in the wish to live up to our inflated self-image and to be reputable and well thought of. Hence the centrality of honour in Mandeville's thought.

In various places in Mandeville's writings the 'Cunning Politicians' endowed with superhuman powers and tasks are unequivocally a shorthand referring to a gradual, evolutionary process.[8]Still, in various other passages 'real' politicians have a paramount function. Laws, like language, are collective works, a distillation of wisdom that has been accumulated generation after generation. Politics itself is an outcome of the evolutionary process: "it is the Work of Ages to find out the true Use of the Passions, and to raise a Politician, that can make every Frailty of the Members add Strength to the whole Body, and by dextrous Management turn private Vices into publick Benefits."[9] Mandeville develops a number of similarities between politics and other complex human constructions. As there is no need for skill or experience to knit a pair of socks or wind up a clock, so, to administer a city like London, where a prodigious number of ordinances and regulations have stratified and evolved over time, the magistrates just have "to follow their nose."[10] Real political agents are thus not standing outside the stream of the spontaneous order of which they are themselves part and expression, but as a matter of fact, they do perform their managerial function and they deserve to be commended for that.[11]Where is the room for political action? And what sort of action? Does it concern a general framework of rules, or rather a kind of intervention incompatible with that laissez faire perspective that Hayek ascribed to Mandeville?[12] It is a crucial question in assessing convergences and differences between Mandeville's and Hayek's social theories.

The most articulated reflections on political management--both in terms of principles and practices--are to be found in Mandeville's Enquiry on the Origin of Honour and the Usefulness of Christianity in War, in his discussion of the 'political use of passions' in promoting ideals of religion and honour in medieval and modern Europe. Christianity, like other religions, originates from the human passions, and like other structures of social interaction it has developed without any design, through the permanence of what, from time to time, seemed functional to the maintenance of social order. Certainly, it is not in the power of politicians to 'contradict the Passions'[13] but when rulers encourage that fear of an invisible cause that all men are endowed with, making that invisible power the object of public worship, they obtain a formidable tool of social control. Mandeville singles out two major steps in the dynamics of religion and honour in shaping idealized social models of promotion of the self. The first took place in the early centuries CE, when the Church of Rome blended sacred rites with the emblems of vainglory to codify rudiments of barbarian courage in the morality of honour. The second major step in Mandeville's 'history of pride' took place at the beginning of the seventeenth century, with the spreading of the new standard of modern honour and politeness and of the practice of the duel. Provocatively showing the incompatibility of honour with virtue and religion, Mandeville simultaneously enhances its function as a hierarchical principle and social tie. The code of modern honour, whose extreme expressions--duelling and infanticide--testify to the strength of the fear of shame even above the basic interest in self-preservation, appears far more efficacious than virtue or religion in impelling individual to respect the rules of social intercourse. [14] Men are more influenced by shame, by the fear of being publicly blamed, than by the fear of legal punishments, of religious precepts, or by the thoughts of a future life. Modern honour is a form of a substitute religion, a cult of the self: "human wisdom is the child of time. It was not the Contrivance of one Man, nor could it have been the Business of a few Years, to establish a Notion, by which a rational Creature is kept in Awe for Fear of it Self, and an Idol is set up, that shall be its own Worshiper."[15]

It is puzzling that Hayek, who quoted precisely this passage in his 1966 lecture on Mandeville as an evidence of the 'critical rationalism' with which Mandeville laid the foundations for Hume's work, downplayed the role of political action.[16] With his survey of the forms of honourable conduct characterizing the moral history of post-medieval Europe Mandeville exemplified how the harmony of interests is not independent from the actions of the legislators. The art of politics itself is the result of a gradual process. Rulers and administrators are and remain part of a network of relationships, a hierarchy of mutual servitudes, wheels of vast systems, machinery forged over time. Politicians cannot change human nature, but they must possess the ability to understand it in order to turn individual's self-interested attitudes into public benefits, exploiting precisely those idealized representations of human nature that most dominate at different times. The Christian saint, the citizen of the ancient republics, the learned courtier, and the noble warrior are all anachronistic ideals in the competitive commercial society of the early eighteenth century, but the principles shared in the last centuries by the ruling elites are still paramount in their function of social bond.[17] For Mandeville the synchronic harmony of a multiplicity of individual interests is not natural and spontaneous but is instead the outcome of the intentional intervention of political authority, exercised by playing human passions against one another in the framework of those aggrandized images of the self. Political obligation for Mandeville is grounded on the love of the self and not on reason, and it can only develop within a system of values that cannot be reduced only to written laws, nor to the mere economic advantage.


[1.] Notizie letterarie oltramontane, in «Giornale De' Letterati», Roma, novembre 1743, II, 2, pp. 321-322 a

[2.] Irwin Primer, Bernard Mandeville, in Dictionary of Literary Bibliography, 101, (Detroit: 1991), p.226

[3.] «The Female Tatler» No. 80, January 9, 1710

[4.] B. Mandeville, The Fable of the Bees: or, Private Vices, Publick Benefits ed. F. B. Kaye, in 2 vols. (Oxford: 1924). Reissued in facsimile edition (Indianapolis: 1988). (hereafter Fable) Vol. II, p.130.

[5.] Fable II, 155.

[6.] Fable I, p.51; "Moral Virtues are the Political Offspring which Flattery Begot upon Pride."see also Fable II, p. 402.

[7.] See Tito Magri, Introduzione a B. Mandeville, La Favola delle Api, (Roma-Bari: 1987), pp.xxvii-xxxi.

[8.] M. M. Goldsmith Private Vices, Public Benefits: Bernard Mandeville's Social and Political Thought, Revised ed. (Christchurch, NZ: 2001), in part. Ch.3.

[9.] Fable II, 319

[10.] Fable II, 323

[11.] Fable II, p.330 "To be a consummate Statesman is the highest qualification human Nature is capable of possessing."

[12.] F. Von Hayek, New Studies in Philosophy, Politics, Economics and the History of Ideas, London 1978, p.259; see also N. Rosenberg, "Mandeville and Laissez-Faire," in Journal of the History of Ideas, 24, 1963, pp. 183-96.

[13.] An Enquiry into the Origin of Honour, and the Usefulness of Christianity in War, by "the Author of the Fable of the Bees" (London: J. Brotherton, 1732) (hereafter Honour), p.28. See. Fable II, pp. 206 and fwd.

[14.] See: M. Peltonen, Politeness, duelling and honour in Bernard Mandeville, in The Duel in Early Modern England. Civility, Politeness and Honour, (Cambridge: 2003), pp.263-302 and P. Olsthoorn, "Bernard Mandeville on Honor, Hypocrisy, and War," in The Heytrop Journal, 60, (2), 2019, pp. 205-218.

[15.] Honour p. 41.

[16.] Hayek 1978, p.263.

[17.] E.J. Hundert, The Enlightenment's Fable. Bernard Mandeville and the Discovery of Society, (Cambridge: 1994).

Last modified October 14, 2020